Why My Olympus Camera Upgrade Is, Er, a Fujifilm

I started this blog six years ago today with a post about my new love  affair with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I had seen the camera at Focus on Imaging (now renamed The Photography Show) whose 2019 incarnation was a couple of weeks ago.

For me the Olympus range of OM-D cameras (I subsequently replaced the E-M5 with the pro E-M1) were a breath of fresh air for my photography. It meant I no longer had to haul a heavy camera bag, which was causing me a good deal of shoulder and back pain, whilst still allowing me to create images of equal quality to those from my DSLR gear. Of course the argument of full-frame versus micro-thirds that began with the introduction of the OM-D range still rages today.  For me however any issues caused by a smaller sensor size are more than offset by the cameras footprint and its amazing 5-axis image stabilisation. So, if I’m that pleased with the OM-D range (and have invested fairly heavily in pro lenses for it) why have I now invested in a Fujifilm X-T3?

The Mark I E-M1 which has been my workhorse for the past four and a half years, has served me well. So well in fact that I eschewed the next version, the Mark II which came out in September of 2016 preferring to wait for a more significant upgrade which was rumoured to be this year, the 100 year anniversary of Olympus. The rumours were correct and we have indeed got a new E-M,1 however rather than go for a new ‘mark’ Olympus have designated their new camera the E-M1X and, for a micro 4/3 camera, it’s quite a beast. Like the pro-level Nikons and Canons the E-M1X comes with an integrated vertical grip. Although this does not make the overall size of the camera that much bigger when compared with the E-M1 MkI/Mk II with their grips attached it does mean that you cannot benefit from carrying a smaller footprint camera when you want something a bit more discreet or less bulky.

I’m sure there are good design decisions for having a built in grip, better waterproofing and the ability to have two batteries in the grip housing are two benefits, but for me the inability to be able to remove the grip and have a smaller body when you want to travel light, was a bit of a deal breaker. This coupled with the fact that the camera is really aimed at sports and wildlife pros who will no doubt benefit from the admittedly awesome 30fps (120fps at 1080p) together with Cinema 4K at 24fps. Neither of those are genres of photography I do so the benefits to me would be marginal. The sensor is the same size as that in the E-M1 Mk II (20.4MP) though this camera has two TruePic processors allowing for the camera to have the frame rate it does. Finally the price of £2,800 ($3,000) could not, I felt, justify the features which I would get, but rarely reap the benefits of.

So, what to do? Given my main camera was now nearly five years old and without a backup for when things go wrong I felt there was nothing else to do but either look at another OM-D model. The E-M5 Mk II (16MP) maybe, though that is rumoured to be seeing an upgrade soon or even the smaller PEN-F (20MP), nice camera but its smaller size means some of the larger M.ZUIKO lenses make it a bit imbalanced in my view.

I have been watching Fujifilm for quite some time and indeed have owned both an X100T and (currently) X100F. which are great go anywhere, pocketable (just about) cameras that are ideal for street photography. What I like about the Fujis is the slightly retro look and feel in the way they have the main camera functions (i.e. shutter speed, aperture and ISO) available as dials on the camera thereby avoiding which dial, button or menu function to select. Having APS-C sensors, resolution is slightly higher but the bodies (and hence lenses) are still small and light enough not to cause serious back and shoulder injury when carried all day. The X-T3, which is more of a traditional SLR version of the X100F with interchangeable lenses, a faster X-Processor 4 imaging engine and improved auto-focus looked like a good option therefore.

Of course the big problem with switching your make of camera body is with lenses. If you have built up a selection of lenses with one manufacturer then switching completely to another brand can be an expensive proposition as you have to replace all those costly pieces of glass.  Another option therefore could have been to go with Panasonic which uses the same micro 4/3 sensor size and lens mount as Olympus and the current G9 looks like an extremely capable camera (though still with a ‘only’ a 20MP sensor on board).

At this point I have to confess to falling prey to the cool/aesthetic appeal that some brands of camera have and others just don’t. Yes, I know that technically any £1000+ (or even cheaper) camera you buy today is not just a miracle of modern technology but capable of creating images of a quality that any but the most die-hard pixel-peepers will struggle to find fault with. I’m afraid the Panasonics (and the Sonys and the Canons) just don’t do it for me in the aesthetics department though. They come across as purely functional machines which whilst doing the job don’t have the ‘x-factor’ that makes me want to pick them up and use them to create images. Fuji on the other hand (as with Olympus) do have that undefinable desirability characteristic.

So having had a play with both the Fujifilm X-T3 and the Olympus E-M1X at The Photography Show I was finally won me over by the former. Make no mistake though, the OM-D is a beautiful camera to hold. It feels ‘right’ in the hand and has silky smooth controls but was not ‘the one’ for me, at least not this time around.

It turns out as well that having a different lens format was not so much of a problem. My current Olympus gear does not include a 50mm equivalent standard lens and although I had a 70-200mm equivalent lens (a Panasonic 35-100mm F2.8) I got a great combined trade-in/casback through Wex on the Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8 so this combo is what I decided to go with.

My first outing with the X-T3 was at the People’s Vote March in London plus it also accompanied me on a trip to Athens where the small size of the camera combined with the 35mm F2.0 lens were great for street photography as well as some classic city views like the one below.

Sun Setting Over the Acropolis, Athens

Sun Setting Over the Acropolis, Athens – Fujifim X-T3, 35mm f/2, ISO200, F/8.0 @ 1/220s

This, I should add, is by no means the end of my affair with Olympus. I believe both these camera and lens combinations complement each other really well and look forward to using them together over the next several years.

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